China has landed a rover on Mars for the first time—here’s what happens next

by

On Can even 14, China’s field program took a huge soar forward when it landed a rover on Mars for the first time, in accordance with issue media. China is now most efficient the second country to land successfully on Mars. The rover, named Zhurong (after the god of fire in extinct Chinese language mythology), joins NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers as the finest wheeled robots trekking all around the flooring of the planet. 

“This is admittedly a milestone for the Chinese language field program,” says Chi Wang, the director of the National Rental Science Center on the Chinese language Academy of Sciences. “It signifies Chinese language field exploration steps out of the Earth-Moon scheme and heads for the [Mars] planetary scheme. A mission like this demonstrates China has the functionality to explore all of the solar scheme.”

Zhurong is segment of the Tianwen-1 Mars mission that China launched final July, the same month as NASA’s launch of the Perseverance rover and the UAE’s launch of the Hope Mars Orbiter. All three made it to Martian orbit in February. Perseverance headed straight for the flooring, while China held Tianwen-1 in orbit for a pair of months to explore a lawful landing situation for Zhurong. It will definitely chose Utopia Planitia, the same place of living where NASA’s Viking 2 spacecraft landed in 1976. Tianwen-1 contains each and every an orbiter and the Zhurong rover.

NASA has had a string of latest successes with Mars missions, however don’t let that fool you—half of of all missions to Mars lead to failure. The Soviet Union previously landed a spacecraft on Mars in 1971, however conversation used to be lost correct 110 seconds later. As lately as 2017, the European Rental Company’s Schiaparelli lander crashed on its system to the Martian flooring. China’s first try on Mars used to be truly as segment of Russia’s 2011 Fobos-Deliver mission to explore Mars and its moon Phobos. That spacecraft did no longer depart Earth’s orbit and ended up reentering Earth’s ambiance months later, leading China to pursue its bear fair mission to Mars.  

Don’t assign a query to Zhurong to match as a lot as, recount, Perseverance. The latter weighs over one metric ton, is nuclear-powered, has 23 cameras, carries an illustration scheme to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, can take and stow samples that could be returned to Earth sometime, and even brought a fresh helicopter to the planet. The fashioned is correct 240 kilograms, solar-powered, carries most efficient six instruments, and is expected to final correct 90 Martian days (though it could probably presumably also just very successfully survive for longer). 

Tianwen-1’s motive is to make use of its 13 instruments (seven on the orbiter, six on the rover) to explore the geology and soil mineralogy of Mars, design its water ice distribution, probe the electromagnetic and gravitational forces of the planet, and picture its flooring native weather and ambiance. Whereas the orbiter will look and measure these items from a world point of view and snap photos all of the scheme in which down to a two-meter option, Zhurong will home in on aspects of intrigue on the flooring. This could perhaps use spectroscopy to discover what the soil is manufactured from, measure magnetic fields on the flooring, and track weather changes like temperature and winds. 

Possibly most involving is that Zhurong has a flooring-penetrating radar that could let it understand into activity and constructions underground 100 meters deep—10 cases extra than Perseverance’s radar. The hope is that this instrument will be in a field to detect doable reserves of water ice underground. Water sources will be a main segment of making a colony on Mars sometime. Utopia Planitia in particular is “a somewhat stable situation to land and a that that that it’s seemingly you’ll presumably also reflect of situation to ranking water,” says Wang. 

China’s no stranger to extraterrestrial landings—the country’s lunar exploration program has viewed three winning rover landings on the moon in much less than 10 years. But that didn’t basically create it more straightforward to discover to Mars. The space between the 2 planets creates an 18-minute time extend in conversation. Your complete landing route of needs to be done automatically, with none possibility for flooring ranking watch over to manually intervene. The country’s never performed that earlier than. Now it knows it will.

“This, to me, says they’re getting honest up there in the case of no doubt one of the main arena’s premier field companies,” says The Planetary Society’s Jason Davis. “Factual by the sheer fact that this has no longer been performed by many folks. This isn’t a fluke; it’s no longer like they correct randomly launched and obtained lucky. They’ve clearly been working toward this.”

Though the idea of two worldwide locations with rovers on the planet moreover raises the specter of a rising competitors between the US and China, that could be an oversimplification. Zhurong is nowhere shut to where Curiosity or Perseverance are. Davis aspects out that the 2 worldwide locations truly coordinated the trajectories of their respective 2020 launches to be definite they wouldn’t smash into one any other. “Mars is huge,” he says. “Being in a field to feature extra than one spacecraft there from extra than one entities is that that that it’s seemingly you’ll presumably also reflect of. It’s no longer like they’re going to streak into one any other and trigger problems.”

As a exchange, it’s that that that it’s seemingly you’ll presumably also reflect of the mission could perhaps presumably truly launch up extra alternatives for scientific collaboration. NASA is currently barred from working with the Chinese language field program, however the launch of understand-reviewed analysis thru the public press system there’s an alternative to ascertain outcomes from identical investigations conducted by each and every country’s rovers, equivalent to subsurface radar records. 

“From that time of view,” says Davis, “it’s very priceless for field exploration to bear extra than one worldwide locations, extra than one entities, doing this work. By system of pure science, I’m very mad to understand what the mission uncovers.”